Souslik survey

The European souslik or European ground squirrel (Spermophilus citellus) is one of the threatened rodents of the continent, presently showing a serious decline (see the IUCN Red List account of the species). In Romania the status of the souslik is also deteriorate, although data regarding current distribution, isolation and threats are lacking. In the past years, members of “Milvus Group” Bird and Nature Protection Association carried out surveys in order to assess the present range of the species within the country.

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Small mammal survey in the hunting range of Aquila pomarina

The small mammal survey was developed to identify and inventory the micro-mammal species in the identified hunting ranges of Aquila pomarina pairs. The aim of the survey was to determine the relative abundance of certain small mammal species that constitute prey availability for the Lesser Spotted Eagle (Aquila pomarina), hereby LSE. The survey was conducted according to methodology given by developed protocol. The inventories took place in three Special Protection Areas (SPA), where LSE is one of the priority species. Territories of two breeding pairs (or pairs observed with breeding behavior) were selected in each SPA:

-Dealurile Târnavelor – Valea Nirajului SPA (Mitreşti and Hodosa, Mureş County) hunting range of male Marton and Ehed and their female mates

-Podişul Hârtibaciului SPA (Bârghiş and Iacobeni, Sibiu County) hunting range of male Cingár and Jakab and their female mates

-Piemontul Făgărași SPA (Lisa and Breaza, Brasov County) – the survey was made only partially because of delays in habitat mapping of hunting ranges.

Traplines in Marton's hunting range (yellow) Marton's homerange (orange))The small mammal survey was begun after determining the hunting range of each pair by locations of satellite tracking. Mapping of habitat on an area of 3×4 km followed. This area was considered as the hunting range of one pair of LSE identified by movements of satellite tracked birds and combined with field observations. The main used survey method was the capture-mark-recapture. Live trapping was conducted on transects in 10 different habitat types: meadow, open grazing field (without trees and bushes), grazing fields with significant amount of bushes (min 50%), grazing field with scattered trees and bushes, maize, cereals with ear, alfalfa, parcel edges or bush-lands and unused areas, abandoned agricultural fields, forest edge. In each hunting range we used 15 trap lines. Each trap line contained 40 traps, which were set for 3 days. Data on micro-mammal fauna and relative abundance is expressed through captures / 100 trap nights. At the moment we are analyzing the data collected. The results will be delivered till March 2011. Here we present some preliminary conclusions:

-the most common species were Apodemus flavicollis, A. agrarius and Microtus arvalis.

-the lowest abundance of small mammals (0.33 captures /100 trap nights) was recorded on the open grazing fields of the hunting range of Ehed and its female mate

-the highest abundance (57 captures /100 trap nights) was recorded on an abandoned agricultural field of the hunting range of Marton and its female mate

– higher abundance was also recorded on the forest edges and meadows

-the micro-mammal density differs much more between hunting ranges than it does between habitat types.

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Otter survey along the Niraj and Târnava Mică river

The knowledge about the distribution of the Otter (Lutra lutra) in Romania is limited to some insular observations. It was known that the otter is still widespread distributed along the streams, rivers and the Danube Delta but there are no relevant information for determination of the most important areas for its conservation. Otter is one of the priority species for the  Natura 2000 sites. Although in that circumstances is quite difficult to delimitate the most important areas for it in many biogeografical regions. Our aim is to serve reliable data for designation of Natura 2000 sites for otter. Beginning of 01-24-2009 we surveyed the otter presence along two relative natural rivers, in Niraj and Târnava Mica (Mureş county). The survey was done using the IUCN standard method noted separately the permanent and only occasional presence of the otter, as well as compliting a standard forms about the survey circumstances and habitat characteristics.

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Snowtracking

After the first snowfall we have started the snowtracking in Bistra Valley – in the area of wolfpack territory. During the snowfall on 22nd-23th November in the valley of Bistra and Galaoaia river we found only one track of an average sized bear. On 13th-14th December we were tracking a middle sized femal bear with cub which was searching for beechnuts on the ground and under the snow in a forest. According to the signs we found that the bears were searching for food several times in the same place with old beech trees. We found also the wolfpack of the Bistra Valley. Before the first snowfall in the middle of November they stealthily caught and consumed 2 sheep on the pasture in the opposite side of the Bistra river. In the middle of December they killed a sheep in the garden of a house. This time we found their tracks in a crest where they are usually searching for wild prey. Their pack has minimum 4 members. On 20th-21st December we could not found in fresh snow any sign of wolf and bear activity.

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Otter survey

The survey of otter presence had begun in august 2008 along the streams crossed by bridges and roads.

We had collected the otter spraints and other different signs, which are showing if the otters use the stream section regularly or only occasionally. By this survey, we are trying to recover the lack of reliable data about present otter distribution in Romania in order to gather necessary information for designation of Natura 2000 sites.

The possible passages under future highways and roads will be identified. At the same time, we had collected data about the bridge suitability for otter’s passing.

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Sheepdog survey in Transylvania

In autumn 2008, we visited 15 different shepherd camps in two different regions of Transylvania: the southwestern part of the Calimani mountains foothill area and the southeastern part of the Giurgeului basin. Initially the survey’s aim was to identify some sheepdog characteristics, which lead them to meet the requirements in a region where predators like wolves and bears are present and the depredation could mean a real problem. The method we used was the personal communication and filling a questionnaire with the shepherd about their dogs and damages. In addition, in case of shepherd’s assistance, we gained also individual data about the dogs and we took their measurements (height at withers and weight). We had found and compared some big-tailed foreign sheepdog races (non-traditional in Europe) which are used as sheepdogs.

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Bear diet study

In autumn 2008, we were continuing to study the bear diet in two different areas of the Calimani, respectively Gurghiului Mt. foothill area.

We based the diet study on the macroscopic analysis of all bear excrements found in an orchard, respectively in a forest, bush land or pasture area. This way we could find out which type of food is the most important and how is each of it important for the bears during the hyperphagic period, when the bears are gaining the fat for hibernation. We identified also the most important locations where the food is available in order to preserve it and avoid damages or other conflicts with humans.

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Bear habitat suitability – a preliminary analysis –

In summer 2008, we had analyzed some of the hilly areas in the southwestern part of the Calimani Mountains, which are very important for the bear survival. This activity was voluntary-based and its aim was to gather an important data for designing the areas of Special Conservation Interest (SCI) for the Brown Bear (Ursus arctos) in the continental bioregion. We identified an important area which enable the wild animals (including the bears) to pass from the foothill of the Calimani Mountains to the lower hilly area. The crossing area is avoiding the adjacent agricultural lands.

Our study was comparing the density and the signs of bear activity, as well as the natural food availability and other important factors.

Destroyed anthill

Destroyed anthill

Pine tree stripped by bear to can rich the sweet cambial tissue

Pine tree stripped by bear to can rich the sweet cambial tissue

Wasp nest eaten by bear

Wasp nest eaten by bear

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Northern birch mouse captured

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On the 3rd of May 2008 one specimen of northern birch mouse (Sicista betulina) was caught in the southern part of Gheorgheni basin, Harghita county, by members of Milvus Group. This is the 9th proving specimen and the 6th known location of the species in the country. The northern birch mouse is a boreal species, inhabiting the forest and steppe-forests zone of northern Asia and the eastern and northern part of Europe. In the Carpathians the species is likely to have a relict character, having previously been identified in Romania only in Rodnei, Gurghiului, Ceahlău and Rarău mountains (Eastern Carpathians), as well as in Bucegi mountains (Southern Carpathians). The last observation of the species dates back to 1996. The captured animal is an adult male, showing all characteristics of the species. The habitat in which it was caught (swampy meadow with young birch trees) is a new one for the species in Romania, though it is a known habitat type in northern Europe according to foreign literature.

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Wolf mystery

Unlike as in the Amerikan or Asian continent in Europe wolves are more uniformly coloured. Their fur in winter coat seems like is grey and in summer in the moulting period they get an open reddish-grey colour. Their hair especially on the back presenting  black, white and yellowish-reddish band in the same time. This fur with multicoloured hair can offer the perfect camuflage for wolves in most of the habitat types. They can remain unobserved irrespectively of the background colour of the habitat.

In the last few years, we have collected information about direct wolf observations taken by shepherds or hunters. The shepherds are using usually a specific language with specific periphrasis which may sound strange. In addition, their perception skill and attitude can distort the reality. In the first years we believed that shepherds’ observations of wolves could not be “usable” for us due to their poor explanation or their exaggeration. However, they can possess some valuable information.
We have just a few verified data about strange coloured animals. Some people believe that they are wolves while others believe them to be dogs.

Taking into account this fact mentioned above, we try to make a data selection about wolves described by shepherds to gain a picture about the abundance of strange coloured animals.

First, I will give a definition of the species called “wolf” by shepherds or hunters, according to our experience.

Usually shepherds and hunters are those who have the opportunity to meet wolves:

In the darkness

Generally, as wolves are categorized as those animals, which
– can be recognized after the barking of sheepdogs – wolves are coming usually in pack and when sheepdogs chase them their barking can be heard from several places in the same time.
– hold sheepdogs in alert for several hours or several times in one night
– kill a sheep or dog unobserved
– jump in the sheep-enclosure

In daytime

Generally, wolves are categorized as
– all observed wolves-shaped animals, including white, red, café, grey and black coloured animals wandering alone or in pack and presenting some wolf behaviour like timidity towards humans, tail holding.
The wolf-like animals, which are showing some strange characteristics (tail holding, body conformation, colouring, lack of shyness) are considered by hunters simply as feral dogs.
In this way, a number of data about wolf-dog hybrids or crossbreeds are lost.

Hunters and foresters are considering the possibility of wolf–dog hybridization in nature as unreal. They argue simply with the “well known fact” that the dogs are the most preferred prey of the wolves. However the existence of wolf-dog hybrids or crossbreeds in the wild is not just a myth. The existence of wolf–dog hybrids and their backcrosses were recorded in several countries.

Except for finding the real originator of the damages in shepherd’s camp, it is an increasing challenge for us to find out the number of feral dogs, wolf-dog crossbreed and backcrosses present in the Romanian wolf population.

We possess information of about 149 specimens, including stuffed specimens (16) or skins of shot animals (4).

From all of them (149)
10 specimens were black or very dark coloured:
5 black specimens observed in one group together with other wolves of different colours (not black or dark colour)
– 2 black specimens observed together, one of them was shot
– 1 black coloured wolf killed by shepherd´s dogs
– 1 black coloured wolf stuffed
– 1 black coloured wolf observed by hunters in Târnava valley

81 probably normal coloured:
– 19 specimens of grey colour
– 29 specimens of red, reddish grey, pale ferruginous colour
– 22 “normal” coloured specimens
– 1 “normal” coloured specimen, considered to be a dog between wolves due to his body conformation
– 2 specimens of brownish grey or greyish brown colour

– 4 yellowish specimens (their colour was emphasized by shepherds and by hunters)
– 4 white specimens (their presence emphasized by shepherds)

2 brown coloured specimens:
– 1 café brown specimen observed several times
– 1 brown specimen observed together with 2 “normal” coloured wolves

We have noticed also observations of hunters about a “wolf” specimen which was in lactation period late august and other observations of wolves not afraid of humans.

Conclusion:
The wolves observed under different visibility conditions and in different moulting phases could show a large scale of fur colour from darker through reddish or greyish to yellowish or even white. However in a group with other wolves strange coloured specimens can be sufficiently conspicuous and attract the observer’s attention.

We present below some interesting observations which were taken in daytime by different observers:

The skin of a “wolf” killed by shepherd’s dogs.  Note the colour reminiscent of the German shepherd-dog, the long and thin tail, the lack of the white mask around the mouth, and the presence of the “fifth finger wolf” the 5th finger or claw in the hindleg (Bahnea, Mures county, Romania)

The skins of a black and a red specimen. Look at the relatively shorther legs and the relatively thin tail of the black specimen, respectively the lack of the white bands on the dorsal hairs, and the dark red colour of the front legs in case of the red specimen. (both in the same hunting district, Neaua, Mures County, Romania)
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An animal of unknown origin. (Natural History Museum of the Babes Bolyai University – Cluj Napoca, Cluj county, Romania)

An animal considered by hunters as a dog, but being shot from a wolfpack. (Natural History Museum of Kohl István – Reghin, Mures county, Romania )

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